"I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Son, let this woman be a bride to you in the restoration of my people. Let her be a mother for these people, regenerating souls through the salvation of spirit and water.'" (Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Black Lives Are Sacred Day 20: Forgiving Racism

Monday's blogpost focused on the homophobic Trump decal to which the above graphic was one response. A very different one can be seen in Monica Robert's astute commentary:

There is no hugging or forgetting the fact that these white supremacists wish for me and my people to not exist, and me being unapologetically trans also heightens their hatred as the Klan anti-trans recruiting leaflets popping up back in May demonstrates.

It's also an intersectionality fail in that it cluelessly fails to acknowledge that flag's negative history, and also make the connection that for Black trans, bi and same gender loving people, that flag is as odious to us as the Nazi swastika banner.

And I ask the obvious question, when did non-white BTLGQ people get erased as being part of this community?

It is not incumbent upon the people who are being oppressed to forgive their oppressors. That's where this graphic fails.

Roxane Gay made a similar point, citing healthy Catholic theology, when she honored the choice of some surviving family members at Mother Emmanuel to forgive unrepentant white supremacist murderer Dylann Roof but criticized the racist pressure to do so for the others.

As a child, I learned that forgiveness requires reconciliation by way of confession and penance. We must admit our sins. We must atone for our sins....What white people are really asking for when they demand forgiveness from a traumatized community is absolution. They want absolution from the racism that infects us all even though forgiveness cannot reconcile America’s racist sins. They want absolution from their silence in the face of all manner of racism, great and small. They want to believe it is possible to heal from such profound and malingering trauma because to face the openness of the wounds racism has created in our society is too much. I, for one, am done forgiving.

An NPR interview expanded upon her controversial op-ed:

In the bail bond hearing, the judge was talking about how there are two sets of victims: the families of the nine slain and then Dylan Roof's family. And I was stunned because he spent more time talking about Roof's family and what they must be going through. And that really, for me, exemplified the power of whiteness. And we've also seen a lot of this expectation that as black people, 'OK, we forgive this so that we can move on, so that we can heal.' But I don't think that it's our job to forgive anymore. I think that it's time for reconciliation on the part of people who enable this kind of racism.

Church and society alike are profoundly threatened by the prophetic and self-empowering witness of victims who exercise their God-given, Christ-endorsed authority to retain sins by refusing or delaying forgiveness where unpaid debts of justice remain, thus showing true mercy to the soul of the offender as well as other potential victims. Hence there were many articles pontificating that the only way family members could find healing and freedom from their trauma was to forgive, dishonoring the agency and heroism of those who made that choice as well as cruelly shaming those who did not. SorryWatch hit it out of the park again by calling this out in a powerful Rosh HaShana post analyzing Maimonides' rules for healthy apologies.

I have experienced retraumatizing pressure to forgive unrepentant and dangerous perpetrators myself while receiving healing ministry, and worked hard to help the damage this grave pastoral and preaching malpractice has caused many of my own clients. Hence I tried to exercise great care with forgivenesss language in my recent Facebook amends discussed in the Apologizing for Racism post. I knew my victim had zero obligation to forgive me, so I did not presume to ask. Inspired by the incisive SorryWatch blog, I focused instead on attempting to allay some of her hurt by naming each of the specific sins I had committed in the incident, including the crucial, fruitfully heart-piercing, "anti-Semitism."

I did conclude my public acknowledgment ethically required for a public insult with "I would be humbly grateful for your forgiveness as well as passing the amends on to your friend since she exercised wise self care in blocking me." This was primarily intended to signal recognition of the gravity of the offense--naming the magnitude of my debt which is part of the larger horror of Christian anti-Semitism which led directly to the Shoah. It was a request, not a demand, accepting that even a sincere and humble apology fell far short of repayment and that the call was to patiently and peacefully carry it as long as the Spirit leads. And committing to make lived amends with Her guidance and grace by deeper study of Judaism. And to give special attention to the intensely painful and complex situation in Israel which is part of the fallout of Christianity's original sin of intentional and conscious anti-Semitism, now often continued in unconscious but damaging shame and lies in spirituality, exegesis, and preaching. And to continue to explore that in myself so as to make humbler, gentler, more persistent efforts to explain and model a better way in my own teaching, research, and ministry. I did not expect a public response, and my friend was indeed too wise to offer one lest it seem like absolution from a secondary victim for a sin primarily committed against someone else.

I then sent a private message thanking my friend for her courage and charity in offering the public reproof which so deepened the repentance begun by the strong, loving, and wise boundary set by her friend in the FB block. I repeated the request for forgiveness there making sure to clarify that this was not for the harm to the other woman which could only be her call, nor for the whole sinful mess which will be my confessor's in our next monthly appointment. Instead it was for the harm specifically to her by harming her friend in her space, toxifying that wise and safe space, and putting her in the uncomfortable dilemma of how to respond. She graciously granted my request, which was balm to my soul and hopefully to hers, and deepened our treasured and mutually formative spiritual friendship. And I reminded myself that the lack of similar closure with the primary victim--not just of a response to the apology but of any contact including her wise and witty comments at my friend's page-was part of my penance. And a reminder to pray for her healing as she continues to navigate a country and world full of unacknowledged bigotry, as well as to seek ongoing conversion on this issue lest I repeat the harm to any of her sisters or brothers.

Edited to add:

The night before that Reconciliation appointment, you could have knocked me over with a feather when I saw a comment on my friend's page which indicated the courageous and undeserved mercy of unblocking. I took a breath and liked it, and she liked one of mine. After a couple rounds of social media rapprochement I started to wonder if I was being graciously offered the profound privilege of offering a direct apology. I prayed for guidance, waited for clarity, composed one, and sent it to her messagebox hoping (and naming) that it would not be an intrusion or burden. And was stunned again by her generosity in what rapidly turned into an in-depth, moving, and hilarious conversation. When she capped her kindness by sending a virtual hug it finally felt right to return it with a forgiveness request. "Absolutely, and thank you for being so kind" bowled me over with joy, and gratitude, and the desire to pay it forward by emulating her gentleness and humility toward other sinners. I give thanks to Shekinah, for She is good; Her mercy endures forever!


  1. This has been a learning, healing and spiritual event for both of us... a blessing that will, I believe, continue.

    As noted on the facebook page.. You post has a link that leads to a funny but important discussion of forgiveness. Having worked with sexually abused children and adults, emotionally battered people, I agree totally with the following quote. I often tell abusers that apologizing is a discrete act.. it isn't payment for forgiveness, it shouldn't be offered to get forgiveness. Apologizing is the act of acknowledging wrongful actions. So often I have heard people say "but I apologized, what else can I do?" The answer is, make it sincere, not an expectation of forgiveness, and then step back. Forgiveness must be freely given if at all.

    >>I differ a bit with my man Maimo on this one. I agree about not seeking revenge. But I’m troubled by the notion that one must forgive. I don’t believe forgiveness is owed. Apology is morally mandatory; forgiveness, to me, at least, is not.<<


  2. You and the SorryWatch blogger are so right and this highlights the beauty of your generous forgiveness as a free choice all the more! Thank you so much for highlighting something so often used in spiritually abusive squelching of the sacred and transforming anger of victims of both personal and societal injustice. Which I believe breaks the heart and inspires the sacred transforming anger of our loving Holy One who endorsed that anger by allowing/inspiring lament and imprecatory psalms to be the biggest single category in our shared "school of prayer."